We think that by protecting ourselves from suffering we are being kind to ourselves. The truth is, we only become more fearful, more hardened, and more alienated. We experience ourselves as being separate from the whole. The separateness becomes like a prison to us, a prison that restricts us to our personal hopes and fears and to caring only for the people nearest to us. Curiously enough, if we primarily try to shield ourselves from discomfort, we suffer. Yet when we don’t close off and we let our hearts break, we discover our kinship with all beings.
– Pema Chodron, Moving beyond self-protection
My shoulders tense and my breath shortens. I gather my broadswords and shields, surrounding my soul, to stymie any possible suffering. Nothing will get in, I say. And that is exactly what happens—nothing gets in, not even pleasant, happy things.
I do this, even when I don’t want to. This need to defend myself, to protect myself from suffering, is instinctual and viable to my unconscious without little thought or permission given.
I don’t necessarily like or appreciate this defensiveness, nor my overly suspicious mind that envisions spies on every corner watching what I’m doing and how I’m doing it and whether it’s acceptable or not.
I know. My thinking sounds crazy, but honestly, how many of you have found yourselves tensing when you meet someone new? Or coming up with excuses to why you can’t go somewhere out of the ordinary? Or afraid to attempt something new, because, what if you don’t like it or what if someone asks more of you than you’re willing to give? Or what if the situation requires too much emotionally?
Woe is the world to have to feel in front of another, to admit fragility and vulnerability.
As humans, I think we do this a lot: we have the deep desire to be connected and, yet, we shun every opportunity to connect.
The reason behind it all?
Fear that I might get hurt or it won’t turn out or I won’t do it perfectly or right, and so on.
Sometimes the mind doesn’t seem to be the most willing to reach for the positive or the shrugging-of-the-shoulders response that most life situations require. At least, not mine.
I remember once a neighbor coming over to welcome my husband and I to the neighborhood, and my first thought was not a lovely thank you response.
My first thought was, “What the @#*&$ do you want?” My shields were up and my swords were out, ready for battle.
Gratefully, I didn’t speak my first thought out loud, and thank goodness for my husband, who doesn’t have such a suspicious mind, for he welcomed them as nicely as they did him.
I on the other hand had to force a smile, even though all the while I was preparing myself for that inevitable day when they would come and want something I didn’t have or didn’t want to give.
That situation is a classic example of my choosing to suffer and defend that which hasn’t been attacked yet. I was suffering for my future that never came to be. That neighbor never bothered me; they were always kind and friendly.
I didn’t trust that I could deal with whatever came when it came. Instead, I believed that I needed to protect myself from any inevitable ickiness that comes from knowing others, of befriending people, of living life.
When I draw my broadswords and shields, I not only deny what I perceive to be “bad” or unwanted, I also deny the possibilities of living and connecting with others.
I deny laughter and joy, love and friendship. I deny myself, because I refuse to allow myself to be seen by others. I isolate away in a sheltered room with my shields and broadswords as my only companions, and that is truly a lonely life.
I believe what Pema Chodron says is true: “Curiously enough, if we primarily try to shield ourselves from discomfort, we suffer. Yet when we don’t close off and we let our hearts break, we discover our kinship with all beings.”